church caused spiritual agony

We turn corners in our own lives when we decisively commit to “have this mind” in us also, much like Hudson Taylor’s transformative time on Brighton Beach in the summer of 1865. He recorded afterwards that while in a corporate worship service home in England after spending some preliminary time in China, his stomach turned and he couldn’t stay in the room:

“Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the LORD conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told Him that all the responsibility as to issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant, it was mine to obey and follow Him – His, to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labour with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?”

Stephanie Quick, To Trace A Rising Sun, p. 138-139.

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the truth makes us happy

People have got into their heads an extraordinary idea that English public-school boys and English youth generally are taught to tell the truth. They are taught absolutely nothing of the kind. At no English public school is it even suggested, except by accident, that it is a man’s duty to tell the truth. What is suggested is something entirely different: that it is a man’s duty not to tell lies. So completely does this mistake soak through all civilisation that we hardly ever think even of the difference between the two things. When we say to a child, “You must tell the truth,” we do merely mean that he must refrain from verbal inaccuracies. But the thing we never teach at all is the general duty of telling the truth, of giving a complete and fair picture of anything we are talking about, of not misrepresenting, not evading, not suppressing, not using plausible arguments that we know to be unfair, not selecting unscrupulously to prove an ex parte case, not telling all the nice stories about the Scotch, and all the nasty stories about the Irish, not pretending to be disinterested when you are really angry, not pretending to be angry when you are really only avaricious. The one thing that is never taught by any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is exactly that—that there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it we are happy.

G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

the designated means of mercy

Missions is not about anything more or less than the simple delivery of the beautiful message: Behold, God is great, and we can know him in Christ. We can be reconciled to God in Christ. We can become what we’re built to be – in, through, by and for Jesus, because Jesus. This message is the designated means of mercy, and therefore must be verbally declared and tangibly demonstrated. It is the privilege of the people of Jesus to represent Him where He is not known.

Stephanie Quick, To Trace a Rising Sun, page37

science cannot define morality

One of the world’s most prominent philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, was for decades a defender of the Enlightenment view that only secular reason should be used in the public square. Habermas has recently startled the philosophical establishment, however, with a changed and more positive attitude toward religious faith. He now believes that secular reason alone cannot account for what he calls “the substance of the human.” He argues that science cannot provide the means by which to judge whether its technological inventions are good or bad for human beings. To do that, we must know what a good human person is, and science cannot adjudicate morality or define such a thing. Social sciences may be able to tell us what human life is but not what it ought to be.”

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p.12

Nikki at Night

It was a warm Thursday night in July. As was my regular practice, I was on my way after work to visit my dad in the Alzheimer’s unit where he lived. As I drove east towards his home, I glanced out the window to my left, and saw a gorgeous deep blue sky with brilliant sunshine on the green trees. Then I looked out the window on the passenger side. The sky there was black and boiling, like some evil rolling in, much as you would see in a science fiction movie. A massive front was moving through the area, and I was driving right along the dividing line separating these colliding masses of warm and cool air.

It had been a pretty rotten day. I just wanted to get home, relax, and get to bed early. So, I decided to eat a quick dinner and keep my visit short to try to beat the weather home before dark. I got to the wing my dad lived in at the home. Then I coaxed him out of his room with my usual ploy – a dish of Culver’s chocolate frozen custard. We talked a bit, which was difficult since he didn’t know who I was. By this time though he that he was in his teens. One evening a nurse said, “George, your son is here” and he told her she was crazy –  he was much too young to have any children! So from that time on I always called him George.

But this stormy night, I was eager to keep things short and sweet. I was focused on getting home before the storm let loose. I wolfed down my frozen custard and was just standing up to leave when the announcement came across the overhead speakers. We were under a tornado warning – meaning tornadoes had been spotted – and the building was locked down. I was disappointed but decided I would just have to wait a bit for the warning to pass and then head home. What I didn’t realize was that the front, instead of moving north or south, was moving due east, in a straight line, staying right above us.

I decided to help the staff as all the residents needed to be moved out of their rooms. We moved everyone to the interior of the building where they would be away from windows and safe from the raging storm outside. We could hear it now, the rain pounding the roof and the windows. And we tracked the storm on my Blackberry, which became more discouraging as time went on. John kept insisting that there was no storm, “they” were making it up. And he needed a cruller. And a beer. He kept reminding us he needed a beer about every 5 minutes. Judy, as usual, would cry out every few minutes – “Help! Help! I need my blanket.” Mary would grab me and not let go. I think she liked me, though I never heard her speak. She would always smile and tweet like a bird at me when she saw me. “Help! Help! I’m too hot!” “I need a cruller. And a beer.” My dad was quietly dozing at the table.

I was quite tired –  two and a half hours later –  when they finally announced that the tornado warning had ended. The building was no longer under lockdown. I fled as fast as I could, thrilled to see it was not raining as I ran to my car.

I started toward home, but then it started raining again. This was not a gentle summer shower; this was punitive! After driving too fast at ten mph in a 40-mph zone with my windshield wipers on high, I finally eased my way to the freeway ramp. To my dismay, a county sheriff was blocking the ramp because the freeway was flooded. At this point I realized two things: 1) I was very thirsty and 2) it had been quite some time since I had used a bathroom. The brightly lit Burger King across the street suddenly looked rather inviting.

I pulled in and parked as close to the building as I could, waited a few minutes, then made a mad dash for the door. Once inside, I found I had joined a group of about a dozen people, all of whom were soaked to the bone with their hair plastered to their faces. They were sharing stories of how they had come to be abandoned at Burger King at 10:00 pm on this stormy July night. One mother and teenaged girl explained that they hit a huge puddle at a dip in the road, their car stalled, and they realized the car was being swept off the road. They both jumped out and ran the two blocks to Burger King. Others shared their equally exciting stories. But one woman mentioned how worried she was about the poor pregnant girl in the ladies’ room.

You couldn’t miss her when she finally came out of the ladies’ room. She was a pretty girl in her early 20’s. She wore a cute little top with spaghetti straps on and short blue jean shorts. And a bulge shouted that she was about six months along. But she was as blue as anyone I have ever seen. I immediately remembered that I had a blanket in the car. As much as I didn’t want to, I ran back to the car and grabbed the blanket, getting freshly drenched in the process. I ran back in and wrapped her in the blanket and asked a couple of the older ladies to put their arms around her to warm her up.

After a few minutes, I bought the young woman a hot chocolate, and we sat down in a booth together. Since just looking at each other was awkward, I decided that maybe we should talk. She told me her name was Nikki, and her car was nearby. But her car too had stalled, and she couldn’t get it started again. She had called her boyfriend, but he wouldn’t answer. Then she tried her parents, but the weather was too nasty so they wouldn’t come out for her. She was beginning to warm up a bit both physically and relationally. We continued to talk. Nikki was six months pregnant but struggling terribly. She had just found out that her boyfriend liked her a lot, but he liked his freedom even more. No way did he want to be tied down with a baby. So, the boyfriend had decided that it was time to break things off with Nikki. Next, Nikki’s boss told her she was being let go. Evidently, Hooters doesn’t think pregnant waitresses pull the patrons in very well. With no boyfriend and no job, Nikki could no longer afford her apartment, and she had been told she had to be out in less than two weeks. Out of desperation, she visited the minister at the church she grew up in. He explained to Nikki that since she was pregnant out of wedlock, there wasn’t anything they could do for her. Oh, and they would not baptize her child because the baby had been “conceived in sin.” By the time Nikki finished her story, her face was as wet from her tears as it was from the rain.

At this point God nudged me, and I began to explain the love of Jesus to Nikki. I was focused on her, but I noticed a couple of the others also edged a little closer, so they could overhear what I was saying. I explained that God’s love was unconditional, that nothing she had done was beyond what God could forgive and make right. I explained how Jesus wanted to be a part of her life, to help her through her difficulties. And as I shared the gospel with her, I saw hope in her eyes. I kept several Bibles in my car, just for cases like this (which had never happened before.) Once again, I ran to the car and back, this time to get a Bible for Nikki. In that short time, God spoke to me again. I had explained the gospel to her, was getting her a Bible, but I had not given her the opportunity to pray so as to ask Jesus into her life. When I got back in, I gave her the Bible and then asked her if should would like to pray with me. She said she really did want to. I had her repeat short phrases as I led her in a prayer to invite Christ into her life. She was still sopping wet, but you could see a difference in her face.

We used my phone to try to call her boyfriend and parents again. The storm had finally calmed down, so when we finally reached her father, he agreed to come to help her.

A short time later I pulled out of the Burger King parking lot. I was disappointed to see that the on-ramp to the freeway was still closed. But my heart was burning with joy. The next ramp was open, and I was flying down a nearly deserted freeway towards home.

As I drove home late that night, several things dawned on me. First, I realized I never had used the bathroom or eaten. But I recognized that even when I have a bad day and a lousy attitude, God can still choose to use me. Perhaps it was because I was at my weakest. I could not claim that this was because of anything I had done that day to produce spiritual results; God chose this day. And I realized there was no way I would ever have been at some Burger King 30 miles away from my home on a Thursday night. There was no way I would be talking to a Hooter’s waitress about God. But Jesus loves Nikki. He had a plan for her. So that night, God sent a wild storm and arranged for me to meet Nikki at that Burger King.

And one desperate, young woman who was herself bearing a child, became a child of God.

 

 

Closure:

I never heard again from Nikki. She comes to mind occasionally, and I always stop to pray for her and her child. I will never know in this life how Nikki is doing, but I have confidence that God knows and loves her intimately.

Eve Ponderings

Did Eve come to realize just how badly her choice turned out when she chose to sin in the Garden? Did she realize what she had done soon after it happened and wish she could fix it somehow? To get a mulligan, to have a second chance, to undo her sin. I can almost hear Eve pleading with God – “No, make it stop! I didn’t mean for all this to happen! This isn’t what I expected.”

Bible-adam-and-eve

Imagine the guilt she felt those first sleepless nights alone with Adam – outside of the Garden. Wondering if their relationship with God could be restored to even a semblance of what it had once been. Wondering what her relationship with Adam was going to be like now. Still hurt because he had blamed her. Did they sleep arm in arm or back to back?

I have observed that when a son dies, his mother is crushed. Should a mother discover that her son is a murderer, she is devastated. For Eve, to have her son murder his brother must have been insufferable. When they found Abel’s body, it may be that he was the first human being to have physically died. What would it have been like to hold a lifeless body when no one had ever done so before? How long did it take her to realize that Abel would never talk or eat or be with them again? Only now did Adam and Eve and their offspring begin to understand the depth of the curse of death. No one could comfort Eve with words –  because no one had ever before tasted the gall of death like Eve did on that day.

What great grief Eve must have carried with her being aware that her suffering and sorrow were caused by her own actions. Eve, more than any other, bore the burden of her sons’ fates because of her own past actions. Death became reality because of that one fateful choice she made years earlier.

As Eve lived and had more children, how did her heart cope with all the pain she saw in her ever-growing family. She and Adam had known a perfect world with no pain, no sorrow, no loss. She lost a world where she had been continually walking rightly with God. She lost the life where her heart had still been pure. Now she saw her children and grandchildren, all broken and flailing because of sin.

Can you imagine if Eve were still alive today? Since the Fall, the world has seen war, disease, disasters, murder, torture, genocide – evil upon evil. And Eve would know deep in her heart that it was all because of her choice made oh so long ago. She chose to experience something new, to look for excitement, to try out her own wings. She chose to listen to bad counsel. She chose to disobey God. And all humanity has been under the weight of sin and sorrow ever since.

When we get to heaven, I imagine that God must lift some of the burden of our memories; of the knowledge of the consequences of our sin on others around us. When I think back on my life, I cannot shake the burden of knowing how often I failed. I failed as a parent, as a son and brother, as a husband. There are so many bad choices that I cannot go back and fix. I cannot fathom how Eve could possibly bear the full knowledge of how her selfish choice played out in the millennia that followed.

We know that God sees all the evil in the world, but to a much deeper extent and intimacy than Eve ever could. Eve can see world history and how mankind has ruined itself and our world. But God sees into each human heart and knows each thought. Those of us who appear to be “good” people all still have evil thoughts. We still do “good” things but for the wrong reasons – how this must be repugnant to God. He knows the conniving of both the good and the evil. How we must be a stench to Him – a stench that would make us retch and vomit.

And yet –  He loves his people. He knows and cares for each human being that lives today – all 7 billion of us – and everyone who lived before us. And each individual who is yet to be born. He chose an extremely personal and painful way to make a way for us to be cleaned up and reformed and totally restored. He chose to take the burden of all the evil that men and women have done to one another upon himself. He took the punishment that was due to us, but also the guilt and the shame and the self-loathing. He embraced us who were and are utterly revolting. He tenderly cared for us when He should have turned and run to abandon us to our own fate. He did this when He should have been utterly contemptuous and disgusted with us.

As in the Garden, God is giving each human being a choice. The choice in the Garden was whether to trust God, to hold firmly to the truth when tempted to doubt, to continue to obey when disobedience looked more attractive. Today, God gives us the choice of whether to trust the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are given the choice to grasp this truth, to learn to trust Him when we struggle and doubt, to learn to obey when all within us screams to disobey. He gives us the freedom to choose again. We are free to choose His way of being redeemed.

For me, this is proof of God’s infinity. No finite love could ever love the filthy lot of deranged scoundrels that we are. Only an infinite love could be so inexhaustible that it could love the totally unlovable people that we have become. Only infinite creativity could have devised a plan this fantastical. He devised a way to restore us who were ruined and revolting and make us desirable and yes, even beautiful.

As we who trust Jesus stand today, we have one foot in the unfathomable depth of sin and one foot in the incomparable glory of heaven. We struggle as we are pulled from both sides. But one day, we will step through. We will firmly plant both feet in heaven. And the God who had every reason to reject and destroy us will actually allow us to live in his presence for the rest of eternity. He will transform us into glorious beings that are restored to that original purity that Adam and Eve knew before they put their wills ahead of God’s.

What other god that any person has ever devised and worshiped could even come close to what our God has done for us? Praise him forever!

Dr. Who Evangelism

Dr. Who is not a Christian show. But once in awhile, I tune in because it is extremely imaginative and creative. Not your average sit-com by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s the set-up: Clara’s boyfriend, Danny, whom she loves greatly has been killed in a car accident. Clara has been grieving for weeks. The Doctor calls and Clara collects all the hidden keys to the Tardis (the Doctor’s time machine) to force the Doctor to go back in time and prevent Danny from dying. The Doctor refuses. Trying to force the Doctor to do her will, Clara destroys the keys, so the Doctor can never enter the Tardis again. Both Clara and the Doctor will die stranded in a strange time and land. Then we discover that the Doctor has been letting Clara’s dreams play out in her mind, but not in reality. But this betrayal is what she really would have done.

Dr Who – Season 8 Episode 11 – Dark Water – About 13:34

Now read what happens next,  or click here to see the video.

Clara:    What now? What do we do now? You and me? What do we do? . . . Doctor?

Doctor: Go to hell.

Clara:    Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough. (starts to leave)

Doctor: Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. I told you. We’re going to hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die, if there is anywhere. Where ever it is, we’re going to find Danny. And if it is any way possible, we’re gonna bring him home.
Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around to see if I could find one.

Clara:    You’re going to help me…

Doctor: Well, why wouldn’t I help you?

Clara:    Because of what I just did, I just. . .

Doctor:  You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust. You betrayed our friendship. You betrayed everything I ever stood for! (shouts) You let me down!

Clara:    Then why are you helping me?

Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

This exchange between Clara and the Doctor shows so well what love and forgiveness in Jesus really look like. In the allegory here, for just a couple minutes, Clara represents all of fallen humanity and the Doctor represents Christ.

When I sin, I am betraying the trust Jesus has placed in me to be the light of the world. He is not here physically like he was 2000 years ago and he trusts me, and all who follow him, to represent him to this world. I betray his trust. I betray my friendship with him. I act in ways that totally contradict everything my mind knows is right and true…

Yet – Jesus. Still. Loves. Me.

There is nothing in the world He has created that can ever separate me from the love of Jesus. Neither life, nor death, nor principality, things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God. And if none of those awesome, powerful things can separate me, why should I imagine that just weak, simple, small me should be able to?

Jesus loves me, this I KNOW.